Science fiction is ultimately cut and dried and explains everything in the end, but pure fantasy generally doesn’t explain enough. — Roger Zelazny, in his introduction to Steven Brust’s To Reign in Hell .
That’s Béla, our resident Hungarian musician, up there on the fourth floor of the Library playing some tune collected in Yugoslavia by the other Béla, Béla Bartók. When they built this library space in the 1880s, they decided it should be four walls around a central open space to the roof with enough windows to give it lots of natural light. Makes a spectacular view as the sun sets and all the windows positively glow as it’s doing now.
Reynard’s had my Several Annies updating the catalogue for the Infinite Jukebox, our digital music collection. Specifically he had them doing the Rock and Roll performances, which is why you’ll see such treats as Don MacLean doing ‘American Pie’ and the Rolling Stones performing ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ in the coming months. There’s even a complete recording of the Decemberists performing ‘The Tain’.
April starts us off with a treat for fairy tale aficionados: ‘Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are well-known, even to those who’ve never heard his name. His stories have entered our cultural consciousness (who doesn’t know of “The Little Mermaid,” even if it’s only through Disney’s version) and verbal lexicon (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”) and are here to stay. Maria Tatar’s The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen offers a glimpse at the man behind the tales, the subtle nuances of his art and language and renders the stories all the more powerful.’
Robert brings us a look at a rather different take on fairy tales, in The Poets’ Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm Fairy Tales, an anthology edited by Jeanne Marie Beaumont and Claudia Carlson: ‘The first thing one notices looking through the table of contents of The Poets’ Grimm is the overwhelming number of women contributors . . . They allude to several reasons for this, one, of course, being the increasing number of woman poets of note, but more important, the fact that fairy tales and women seem to be inextricably bound: not only were the majority of the Grimm Brothers’ informants women, but women, most particularly in the Victorian Era when the Grimms published their collections, were the guardians of the “virtues of the hearth”. . . .’
Kathleen has a look at book she’s treasured since her childhood, Tolkien’s Smith of Wooton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham. She says, ‘Smith and Farmer Giles have the advantage of being completed by Tolkien himself, and are lovely, polished tales. . . . They are the work of a very modern and well-educated scholar — but like all Professor Tolkien’s work, they feel like an echo of the sunlit fields and shadowed woods of the British mythic landscape that he so loved.’
Richard says ‘The main draw of Alan Moore’s Exit Interview comes from the fact that Moore dishes, at great length, on where exactly his relationship with DC Comics went sour. To a lesser extent, Moore talks about upcoming projects, the origins of British comics fandom, and his take on the mainstream comics industry, but the sensational stuff is likely what’s going to draw the most readers. That’s as should be, as Moore provides a fascinating look into the inner workings of big-time comics publishing, and how the creative talent can get mangled in the gears of the machine once Hollywood gets involved.’
He finishes out our book reviewing this time with a look at The Third Cry to Legba, and Other Invocations, the first in an impressive series : ‘Manly Wade Wellman is the literary equivalent of a favorite corner bar. The regulars all know the place and sing its praises to the heavens, but somehow the restaurant critics and Saturday night crowds never seem to find the place. And we, as patrons, are secretly relieved that we still have it all to ourselves. That way, when we pass other patrons, we can give each other secret little smiles because, well, we know something the rest of you don’t. That, however, may be changing, at least in the case of the late Mr. Wellman, and it’s about damn time. Night Shade Books is putting together a six volume collection of Wellman’s works, and this is cause for much rejoicing among fans of good writing everywhere.’
Gus has a Kitchen story for us: ‘No, not the biscuits we have here in Scotland and the rest of the British Isles which Americans call cookies of one sort or another, but rather what Americans do call a biscuit. There’s simply nothing better then the smell of the biscuits baking in the kitchen, and they are sure to disappear as quickly as they appeared. And how they came to be a very appreciated aspect of the food here is a tale well-worth telling as I do here.’
Alexandra Parsons’ A Proper Breakfast gets a look-see by Reynard: ‘Yes, another breakfast book. I eat breakfast most every day as I work that afternoon to early evening hours when possible in the Estate Pub which I manage as I like to keep my tending skills fresh. That means I get up around eight in the morning and eat breakfast with Ingrid, my wife. When I travel with her, we both look forward to eating breakfast in whatever locale that we’re in.’
Harking back to our first couple of reviews (well, sort of), Robert takes a look at a graphic novel that’s not quite a fairy tale. In fact, it’s pretty firmly grounded in Greek mythology: ‘Mike Carey’s The Furies, illustrated by John Bolton, is another spin off from Neil Gaiman’s series The Sandman, and captures that same blend of myth and everyday life that was such a striking feature of Gaiman’s work.’
Speaking of Béla — not our Béla, but the other one, Béla Bartók — Robert brings us a look at more of his music — to be precise, Sonata for Solo Violin, Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano, Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet and Piano: ‘The works presented on this disc from 2L provide a good illustration of the composer’s approach to composition at various times in his career through some of his chamber music, which to me is always one the best ways to find out what a composer is thinking.’
Gary says ‘singer-songwriters in the Americana field are as plentiful as mushrooms in the spring,’ which is an interesting simile if you think about it. He seems to have found a few palatable (and non-lethal!) choices in that basket of new CD releases, though, and he reviews them here.
Gary also was very favorably impressed with Nine Pin, the sophomore release by African-Canadian musician Kaia Kater. He found the album a joy to listen to, although he says, ‘The songs by and large are somber meditations on personal and racial relations in America.’
Jack DeJohnette, a living legend of a jazz drummer, crops up on two reviews from Gary this week. He’s the drummer on a surprise historic release featuring pianist Bill Evans that was recorded in Germany in 1968, Some Other Time: The Lost Session From the Black Forest, which Gary says is a ‘beautifully produced and presented gem.’ And DeJohnette is the leader of his own trio featuring Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison. They have a new release In Movement that Gary says ‘perfectly encapsulates DeJohnette’s insistence on moving forward even while glancing back.’
Kim looks at Evangeline Made: ‘Cajun music is a beguiling, seductive, heady mixture of influences –rhythms borrowed from the Creole, French fiddle and accordion, full voice American vocal styles in which notes are emphatically held and the voice wavers around the tone. Along with its cousin Zydeco, it is one of the best strains of North American roots music: danceable, rhythmic, and oh so congenial, lacking some of the morbid pre-occupation with death and the blessed beyond that haunts other genres — Appalachian, for example. Its two steps and waltzes have seduced many a rock or pop musician, who in turn have borrowed from the tradition in their own music. And that’s how we got to this release: Ann Savoy has collaborated with a cast of these folks and an assortment of Cajun musicians to make a Cajun album.’
Vonnie finishes off with a rather choice album by June Tabor: ‘An Echo of Hooves has Tabor returning to what, in my mind, she does best, delivering ballads or songs that tell a tale. For this she has chosen eleven Medieval ballads. Some of them are very well-known, like “The Cruel Mother,” “Hughie Graeme,” “Sir Patrick Spens” and “Bonnie James Campbell”. Others are new to me.’
In Roger Zelazny’s To Die in Italbar, there’s a character frozen at the edge of death who has no heartbeat but instead always has music playing as a sort of substitute for the silence in his chest. If you visit me in the Estate Library, you’ll always find something playing and recently I’ve been listening to a lot of music by a Scottish neo-trad band called The Iron Horse who were active starting some twenty five years ago. I’ve got two cuts from them performing live at the Gosport Easter Festival, April of ’96, ‘The 8-Step Waltz’ and ‘The Sleeping Warrior’.